Picks and Pans Review: John Gielgud—a Celebration

UPDATED 05/21/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/21/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT

by Gyles Brandreth

Alec Guinness and John Gielgud did land big roles before Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi and Arthur's valet, Hobson, came along, and these books prove it. Unfortunately they don't prove much more. These "celebrations"—they're a bit shy about calling themselves biographies—consist mostly of movie and stage stills, mixed with a few "candid" shots usually taken on a set and handed out in publicity packets. Almost no photographs that might be called personal are included: a couple of class pictures, news photos of the actors receiving Oscars or just after they've been knighted, a portrait of Guinness by Lord Snowdon. There are some arresting shots: Guinness with Fidel Castro on location for Our Man in Havana, for instance. But the books do not attempt to capture the men beneath the makeup. The texts are very different. Brandreth seems content to quote critics about Sir John's performances and Sir John himself. Taylor, a film critic for the Times of London, writes with style about Sir Alec's career and, to a lesser extent, his life. Taylor recounts the early meetings between the two men: Guinness, 10 years his junior (then 20), asked his idol for help in finding auditions. Gielgud offered him £20 ($100) and told him to buy himself a decent meal. Guinness was too proud to accept but later took a small role in Gielgud's London production of Hamlet. At one point in rehearsals, Gielgud exploded: "I can't bear it! Go away for 10 days and learn to act, for God's sake." Fortunately for generations of fans, Guinness managed to do so. Too bad there wasn't more of this stuff between the photos. (Little, Brown, $14.95 each)

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